MIAMI – While Jordan Mickey showed flashes during the preseason, the 6-foot-8 forward never stepped onto the court during the Heat’s season-opening loss in Orlando.
Yet there he was, walking onto the floor at AmericanAirlines Arena Saturday for the opening tip of the first home game of the season.
“I was a little surprised,” Mickey said following the 112-108 win over the Pacers, which was his second career start.
“I knew Hassan (Whiteside) was down and I had to be expecting probably a little more playing time, but I wasn’t really caught off guard by the start. I just wanted to be prepared and try to help my team the way I could.”
Mickey was tabbed by coach Erik Spoelstra as a reward for his hustle and defense since joining the Heat. The 23-year-old was signed to a $1.5 million contract in August after being released by the Celtics.
Playing center, Mickey made a nice contribution. He scored the Heat’s first basket of the game, throwing down a put back off a missed shot by Goran Dragic. He finished with eight points, six rebounds and Miami outscored Indiana by six points during his 13½ minutes on the court. The best plus/minus on the team.
“Jordan has been doing enough to impress us,” Spoelstra said. “They were short minutes. … just to get the game going. But those are always important minutes.”
Kelly Olynyk knows more about Mickey’s drive and determination than anybody in the organization. The two were teammates the last two seasons in Boston. … That is when Mickey was in Boston.
During an 18-month period, Mickey made 42 trips to and from Portland, Maine and Boston as the Celtics kept assigning him and recalling him from their developmental league affiliate, the Main Red Claws.
Mickey persevered and never allowed it to dent his will of one day sticking in the NBA. That was realized, at least for now, when he was signed by the Heat and given a guaranteed contract.
Olynyk, also signed by Miami this summer, was asked about Mickey being prepared to play a major role after not playing the previous game.
“He’s always ready, always ready. Brad Stevens prepared him for that, because he did it to him in Boston,” Olynyk said about the Celtics coach. “I think Spo and (Stevens) have something in common, I guess.”
Mickey entered the year with career averages of 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 41 games.
With Whiteside out after suffering a bruised left knee Wednesday, Spoelstra went small with Mickey and 6-8 James Johnson on the front line. But despite his size, Mickey’s shot-blocking and rebounding skills measure up to Whiteside’s.
Mickey was an elite shot blocker and rebounder at LSU. He led the SEC with 9.9 rebounds and led the nation with 3.65 blocks per game in his final season (2014-15), joining Hall of Famer and former Heat center Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in school history to block at least 100 shots in a season.
“You never know how many minutes you’ll play, but when (Spoelstra) talked to me, he was like, ‘Just go out there, play hard, play with energy and give us something,’” Mickey said. “And that’s what I wanted to do, just try to give any effort I could to help my team.”